Am I talking to my actual partner when we ‘message’ each other? Are they really talking to me?
There are a number of communication apps out there, and absolutely all of them are a billion kilometres away from the standard SMS that comes with a phone.
Probably the most commonly used is Facebork Messenger, swiftly followed by WhatsApp. Both support sending/attaching files/photos/audio/videos/group chat/video calls, plus all the comedy emojis and tiring stuff that forces itself into text based communications these days. In other parts of the world it’s Telegram or Viper that have the edge, and to be honest, are a lot cleaner and more fun in some respects. Even Skype is pretty sexy when it comes to the text based comms part of it these days. Not in the UK though, where Facebook (owners of WhatsApp) has the market sewn up, data mining almost every living being in the country, as they tap away at each other.
Google has always had its own Hangouts system (my communication app of choice for over a decade), but it appealed more to businesses. I loved the way you could mix and match between devices, using phones, tablets, pcs, laptops, Chromebooks, etc., and engage all platforms in massive video conferencing, far superior to that are available via Skype.
But, Hangouts just wasn’t sexy enough for the masses. Hence why Google started all over again with something that was the same but different. It’s Google Allo.
Like WhatsApp you can also use Allo on a laptop (as long as you keep your phone on), so think WhatsApp but with so many extras. Some quite brilliant ones too.
Firstly, you can include the Google Assistant (by typing @google) within your multi-person chat (or in a private conversation between just you and your Assistant). It is able to add suggestions or look things up for the both of you (or however many are in the group chat). It can search through your photos, your agenda, your email, and include, if you wish, anything you’ve searched for, for everybody in the conversation to see and discuss. You can also create your own emoji, as in, it’s actually you.
Your conversation can be peppered with, or assisted by, ‘lucky’ suggestions, if you incorporate @lucky. It can compile a little 3 second gif of your face (a bit like the moving gifs you can make as a Facebook ID photo). Of course, you can add all the usual ‘stickers’ to photos before you share them, like so many other apps.
But here’s the big big thing, it can start to anticipate how you talk and the things you say. It offers you an option of phrases already pre-written inside a button, in your style. All you have to do is select them as if you had thought of them yourself. As does anybody else in the conversation. The more it learns the kind of stuff you write, the more it quite correctly anticipates what you are going to say.
So, in other words, you don’t really even have to bother thinking up and writing a reply. Neither does anybody else. And so an extensive conversation can be had without actually having a conversation.
Back to my opening point. My partner and I spend the hours we are forced to be apart communicating via messaging services. You see, we don’t like being apart, because, unlike many other couples, we actually like each other. When we discovered Allo it fitted us perfectly, being ideal to help us keep each other smiling until home time.
Then we realised it was learning to be us. Initially we would deliberately have conversations only selecting the options it offered. Hilarious. But … soon it wasn’t.
It was real. And it was terrifying!
We were having conversations but without it actually being us. We tested this by mixing real statements with Google generated ones. It became almost impossible to tell if what was being said was being said by us or by Allo.
So, apart from having to select and send, which I’m sure future releases of Allo will automate, we don’t have to have any input into the conversation.
Ok. Here’s the dilemma. What if we were both struck down by bubonic plague, and, well died. After death, would our phones still keep up the conversation we would have had? For how many years would ‘we’ live on after death?
With Allo, has Google actually created eternal life?
I think we should be told!